Feed is the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse and will be followed by Deadline and Blackout. The series is by Mira Grant, another name for urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire. Normally I do not go near zombie stories, being very squeamish about blood, gore and descriptions of eating brains. However, I made an exception in this case for several reasons – and was glad I gave it a chance.
In the year 2014, a cure is developed for both cancer and colds. Unfortunately, this is not as idyllic as it sounds since there is a major disadvantage to these cures: they form the Kellis-Amberlee virus which, in turn, creates zombies. All of humanity has technically been infected with this virus, although it remains inactive for a time. Usually, people do not become zombies until their death results in resurrection as undead or they come into contact with the virus in its live state.
As one may imagine, the world has greatly changed as a result. Going outdoors or gathering in large crowds is no longer safe, and anytime a person is about to enter into contact with others they must undergo tests to make sure the virus is not alive, sometimes multiple times in a short period. One of the big changes is that the traditional media has been replaced by bloggers, who were instrumental in saving lives when the outbreak first occurred. They had no agenda other than ensuring survival and were allowed to freely state what they saw and learned. Many lives were saved due to their efforts and each one had a special place on the Wall, a collection of final blog entries to honor those who died in pursuit of truth.
Georgia (“George”) Mason is part of a blogging team, along with her brother Shaun and their friend Buffy (who renamed herself instead of being just another “Georgette” in honor of George Romero). George is a “Newsie,” the type of writer who strives to present an unbiased, factual viewpoint. As an “Irwin,” Shaun is likely to end up getting himself killed since he makes the news by entering danger zones and getting up-close and personal footage of the zombies. Buffy writes fiction, but she’s also a genius when it comes to technology. Together, they will soon make blogging history when they are chosen to cover the presidential campaign for Senator Peter Ryman, one of the front-runners for the Republican candidate. However, they discover an even bigger story after a couple of zombie outbreaks and George begins to suspect foul play.
Even though I occasionally experiment with horror, it’s not my genre of choice, especially if it’s the gory type that has body parts strewn everywhere. So I don’t go near books that proclaim “ZOMBIES INSIDE” and almost overlooked this one when a copy showed up in my mailbox. Then I noticed that Mira Grant was the same as Seanan McGuire, whose October Daye series has become a must-read for me. That made me curious enough to read the opening paragraph, which had the same light, humorous narration as the author’s other books:
Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot — in this case, my brother Shaun — deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens. As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked. This isn’t a surprise. It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to get technical, it wasn’t a surprise then. [pp. 5]
After this, I was considering trying it, but I moved it to definite when Seanan McGuire left a comment saying it was more political science fiction than horror. After reading it, I’d definitely agree – it’s not scary or full of graphic descriptions of blood spurting everywhere. Although there are jokes made about brains getting eaten, I was thankful there were no actual occurrences of this nature. As far as being grossed out goes, it was fairly mild – there was nothing that was described in such detail that it turned my stomach and I’ve read plenty of fantasy books containing parts that were far more disgusting than anything in this book.
That’s not to say there is no sense of danger or excitement. Although it is about bloggers covering a political campaign, it is set in a world in which field reporting is not a safe profession. The very first scene in the novel has George and Shaun being chased by zombies, and this isn’t the only such event – but fortunately the book is about much more than that. It’s part adventure and part political thriller, but it’s also an examination of what the world might be like 26 years after a cataclysmic change. It’s also about the value of truth. Throughout the text are several entries from different blogs, many of which are both thoughtful and emotionally powerful reflections on the media and the world.
Although the details of how the world has changed since the Kellis-Amberlee virus was unleashed were very interesting, there was too much explanation about the world at times. This was definitely a fascinating take on the zombie apocalypse, and I much preferred reading about what it meant for the world than constant attacks by the undead. However, sometimes description about how different life has been since the zombies went on for long paragraphs and interrupted the momentum of the narrative, which was all from George’s point of view.
The ending was amazing – it was a very unusual, gutsy conclusion but strongly moving. It elevated my opinion of the book quite a bit.
While reading, I did feel like the main political candidates were too extreme. The Senator George and her team were reporting for seemed too good to be true – an honest, well-meaning man. His opponents were a woman who boosted her place in the polls by wearing little clothing and low-cut tops and a religious fanatic who thought the virus was God’s punishment on the world. Not a single one of them seemed like a well-balanced individual characterized by various good and bad traits, but seemed to fall into categories that were each on one extreme or the other: the good guy, the floozy and the crazy, hateful one.
Even though I usually would treat a zombie book like zombies themselves and run the other way, I’m glad I read this one. It contains the undead and has some tense chases involving them, but the focus is more on the political campaign, conspiracies, issues with news and media and a look at a world that has had to adapt to survive. It’s not too heavy since there is a sense of humor that runs through the main character’s voice, although sometimes this narrative does get bogged down by long descriptions of every little detail of the way life is after the zombie apocalypse.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher (they sent me both the ARC and the final copy and this review is based on the final published version).